it at Amazon
Notes: Rating: 5 of 5
Reviewer Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the award-winning author
of This is the Place and Harkening: A Collection of
of a Half-Irish Childhood
By Hugo Hamilton
How sharp are
the knives that divide. The Speckled People: A Memoir of a Half-Irish
Childhood is about the effects of these blades on the lives
of children: religion, borders, language, war, culture. And yes,
love and hate.
The narrator is a child, the product
of a severe Irish nationalist and a German mother. The parents are
creations of their time and place no less than their offspring.
Young Hugo is allowed to speak only Irish and German in a land that
is increasingly speaking English. He is dressed in Irish sweaters
and lederhosen. The identities of some of his relatives are secreted
away in armoires and others are flaunted as exemplary models. He
is inundated by inflexible rules paradoxically modulated by a mother
with much love to give in spite of her own childhood in Germany
of the Third Reich; her history is slowly revealed to the reader
as Hugo grows in understanding.
Told with a child's stream of conscious,
this memoir requires careful attention. The reader unravels this
family's truths only when the child can finally grasp them for himself.
This technique heightens our understanding of how affecting such
an upbringing can be. The language and structure are poetic in character.
One situation reminds the narrator of another connection and we
begin to see how this character and this family are strung together
and-hopefully-also understand how similar dynamics might have affected
our own lives.
end, it is apparent that children who grow up half-and-half or "speckled,"
will always be marked. Some will turn these hardships into the stuff
of insight, understanding, and-in the case of Hugo Hamilton-great